Category Archives: advertising

Cracks In The Facebook Advertising Facade?

Mark Zuckerberg f8 Keynote

This week General Motors announced plans to cease much of its paid advertising on Facebook but retain its various brand pages to “keep the dialogue going” and continue promoting its automotive products on the popular social networking site.

A GM spokesperson said, “paid ads on the site have [had] little impact on consumers’ car purchases”, suggesting GM’s social strategy on Facebook has failed to meet investor expectations.

This is an interesting revelation amidst the IPO frenzy this week, considering GM is one of the top U.S. advertisers in terms of ad spending, dolling out a mammoth $30 to $40 million alone to nurture its Facebook presence.

Regardless of whether GM is doing it wrong or not, or merely broadcasting instead of listening, one critical question being raised of late centers around the long-term viability of Facebook’s business model, which relies almost exclusively on paid advertising revenues.

The challenge for Facebook, particularly in the growing mobile space where people are typically less than receptive to ADs thwarting their small-ish screens, is in monetizing the more than 900 million users without significantly undermining the user experience to the point people feel compelled to leave.
Myspace quickly comes to mind as the poster child in this regard, illustrating the historically fickle nature of Web audiences and the staggering speed with which tech fortunes can rise and fall on the Net. Though Myspace never had 13% of the world’s population perusing their social network, so things could be very different this time around for Mark Zuckerberg and his talented team of 6 billionaires and 1000 millionaires.

But the question stands: Do Facebook Ads really work? And do ‘Likes’ and ‘Fans’ ultimately translate into product sales? Well perhaps not directly into car sales, but how about something a little smaller, like slices of pizza.

The story of Pizza Delicious out of New Orleans appearing on NPR this week is an interesting one because it paints a cautionary portrait of the challenges in running a successful Facebook advertising campaign. But don’t expect a mass exodus of advertisers just yet, Facebook is only 8-years old! Let’s give the platform time to mature.

Brighter, Faster, Slimmer Smartphones

This spot introduces AT&T's 4G LTE and its blazing fast speeds.

Witness the major telecoms digging deep into their cavernous pockets, unleashing an absolute flurry of smartphone and tablet Ads upon us this holiday season. The modus operandi for successfully placing a brand new rectangular slab of glass into the hands of every semi-sentient being on the planet with a pulse seems to be repetition, repetition, and more advertising repetition.

All About Speed
The message above in the funny spot for AT&T’s new 4G LTE is all about the blazing fast speeds. The two speed-savvy football fans on the left, armed with such fast phones, seem to almost know events before they happen, much to the bewilderment of their fellow tailgaters who are presumably using much slower phones.

All About Multi-tasking
A number of other popular smartphone and tablet spots tout the power of multi-tasking, as though the ability divide one’s attention simultaneously among 3 to 5 independent tasks is both desirable and somehow cognitively empowering.
RIM’s struggling Playbook tablet famously harped on this capability, quite unsuccessfully though, attempting to differentiate a seemingly awkward device—glorious half-baked Android emulator and all—through sheer performance and multi-tasking muscle.
Nevermind the Playbook was over-priced, under-designed, and behind the 8-ball when it came to its sterile selection of apps, the 1 GHz dual-core processor and 1 GB RAM ultimately failed to lure early adopter tech-heads and application developers or put a meaningful dent in iPad sales. But hey, it ran Flash—natively. Remember that obscure little, recently ostracized, plug-in? The one allowing you to experience all the rich quirky stuff the Web had to offer. Unfortunately an entire generation of iOS users will never know the mindless fun of pranking someone with a Schwarzenegger soundboard.

Location, Location, Location?
While the proliferation of mobile devices continues to grow, the sluggish adoption of location-based tools (e.g. FoursquareGowalla) has been surprisingly relegated to a small portion of the mobile users’ digital psyche. Mobile audiences perhaps have yet to see the intrinsic value of ‘check-ins’, unlocking rewards and earning badges as important aspects of their mobile experience. The concept of becoming mayor of your favourite coffee shop or local restaurant appears to hold trivial significance in the lives of most people and comes off as a crude attempt at gamification —that nauseatingly over-referenced buzzword of 2011.

Let’s check-in next year and see if anything’s changed regarding the popularity of location-based tools.

The Creative Steering Wheel

A post appearing on Jason Falls’ blog, Social Media Explorer, curiously entitled The Case of Creative Myopia suggests most advertising campaigns—and the multidisciplinary teams that come together to create and execute these programs—tend to focus disproportionately on the art or visual impressions people will experience rather than the science behind the messaging.

There’s a science to advertising you say? Apparently so.

The advertising science or rational side, as Jason Falls puts it, lies in the measurement, testing and analysis; the information used for example to gauge if the audience is responding in the intended fashion and the communication goals are being met.

Advertising campaigns driven by the creative side on the other hand can sometimes live under a shroud of emotion and nebulous subjectivity. Granted. Creative work is routinely motivated by a deep passion to explore unconventional subject matter. Yes. Sometimes a creative approach may be squarely at odds with ‘the data’ or a more linear approach based upon empirical evidence. Absolutely.
This is the role of creative; to provoke, to challenge existing ideas, to partially abandon critical judgement that can have such a paralyzing effect on the creative process.
This may explain why left-brain oriented thinking individuals, on occasion, seem legitimately threatened by what they would belittlingly describe as irrational artistic tendencies. Those bloody creatives —how dare they flip everything upside down! Our stats say it should be horizontal!
Unfortunately people like Jason Falls feel compelled to relegate the function of creative to a secondary visual façade, a mere titillation of sorts that can’t be quantified, let alone justified with absurd statements like this:

“[Creative myopia] manifests itself with agencies or campaigns run by “artists.” (Pronounced “art-teests.”) The über-creative who border on art snobs often lose themselves in the majesty of the work and forget that the rest of the world isn’t Robert Hughes. For most people (me included), art is a delightful distraction from the mundane. We can appreciate a beautiful picture or painting, get lost in a wonderful song or even appreciate a good theatrical production. But we’re not artists. And we don’t think like them.”

While I’ll agree with the argument there needs to be a balance between the expressive creative attributes of an advertising campaign (e.g. the big idea, the concept/look and feel) with solid mechanics and execution strategies, the two are equally important. Both disciplines work hand-in-hand shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as mutually independent entities. There also needs to be a distinction made (in Falls’ argument) in equating creative with art in the context of marketing communications. The two are not one and the same. Art is driven by personal expression and does not need to respond to specific design and business objectives whereas advertising creative does.

It’s Not All Fluff
In fact great advertising creative is largely the result of thorough market analysis and measurement data collected on a ongoing basis. This data informs the creative development process throughout successive iterations of a campaign and can be used to fine-tune creative content (e.g. look, feel, tone) based on relevant statistical trends. This process of data collection, measurement and creative fine-tuning (Jason Falls likens this process to a rinse and repeat scenario which I too believe yields superior results) forms a clearer picture of the marketing challenges. As a result, advertising messages can be proactively adapted with greater likelihood the creative content will resonate with target audiences.

Enter The Creative Steering Wheel
(Disclaimer: I am an advertising art director and clearly bias towards the power of design and creativity in business)
Creativity plays a significant role in the marketing communications mix because it is generally seen as the most effective way to differentiate a product, brand, or message. All things being equal on the metrics and reporting front, the end creative is the ultimate way to distinguish one Ad campaign, product, brand or message from a competitor’s offering.
The analogy I would use to best describe the relationship between creative and the measurement side of the equation would be an automobile dashboard. The creative is the steering wheel, the primary enabler of a campaign’s overall direction. The measurement side is the instrument cluster and the various gauges along the dashboard providing the crucial feedback needed to monitor our progress as we embark on our advertising journey.

Finally, let’s say people are the gas, the fuel, what ever you want to call it—the juice that lubricates the advertising engine and makes everything run smoothly.

Now, if we could just do something about this damn traffic problem.

Photo credit: the open road by Grewy